1 Beckman's "Inventions," vol. i. pp. 277-281 (1846).
2 "Letters from Scotland " (1760).
3 Footnote, "Cook's First Voyage," vol. ii. p. 281.
"The king of dykes! than whom no sluice of mud With deeper sable blots the silver flood." '
" Sir John Harrington is credited by Nares with the invention of the English water-closet, or latrine, in Queen Elizabeth's time; but Fosbroke says that this is a mistake, though probably Sir John made them known in England. Portable close-stools (the regal one was made of silver) were used in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and placed in garrets, and were called 'ajaxes.'l
"Aubrey, writing in 1718, describes a water-closet he had seen. He says: 'Here [at Sir Francis Carew's, Bed-dirigton, Surrey] I saw a pretty machine to cleanse an "House of Office," viz., by a small stream of water no bigger than one's finger, which ran into an engine made like a bit of a fire-shovel, which hung upon its centre of gravity, so that when it was full a considerable quantity of water fell down with some force and washed away the filth.'2
"I have been looking through a very interesting old book, entitled 'The London Art of Building,' published in 1734, and though ' the Plumber' occupies a place of honour in the book, and a schedule of plumber's works is given, there is nothing in the whole book to warrant one in supposing that traps were used in those days.
"Nor is there the smallest reference to water-closets in the ' plumber,' or ' joiner' - for making the seats, or 'mason' - for shaping the closet-pan just referred to; but many references are made to the drainage of a house. I have culled a few extracts, and will leave you to determine whether there is enough in them to warrant one in saving that soil-pipes or water-closets wastes were fixed in those days - I mean soil-pipes from water-closets fixed 'upstairs.' There can be no doubt about water-closets being at that time fixed in yards, and places where they could be connected with the drain direct. Here is one of the Rules: -
"' That convenient Drains, to carry away Soil, etc, be well contrived, and secretly placed, with Vents to discharge the noisome Vapours that usually arise from them.'1
1 "American Mechanical Dictionary," vol. iii. p. 2763.
2 Aubrey's " Surrey," vol. ii. p. 160.
"'Conduits. Sewers or Gutters to convey away the Suillage of a House.'
"' Sewers, in Architecture, are Conduits, or Conveyances, for the Soilage and Filth of a House.'2
"' That convenient Cisterns be well placed, plentifully to furnish every Office with Water; and that proper Machines be made to raise the same therein.'
"Campbell in his book, 'A Compendious View of all Trades practised in the Cities of London and Westminster,' published thirteen years after this (in 1747), in speaking of the plumber's duties, does not say a word about traps, soil-pipes, or water-closets, except that the plumber must lay on water to the ' Office Houses.' Under the head of ' Plumbers' Business,' he says: ' He must furnish us with a cistern for water, he must fix a sink with lead, he covers a house with lead when it requires it, and makes gutters to carry off the rain-water, he makes pipes to convey water into our kitchens and Office Houses.'
"As far as I can make out, fig. 120 represents the best form of water-closet used in England about a century or a century and a half ago. These water-closets were made of .marble - A the pan; b the waste-plug; c the service-pipe; d the overflow. We have one (an old one) in our warehouse to-day. In examining the sanitary arrangements of Osterley House, about twelve years ago, I found two such water-closets. A niche in a fair-sized room was formed to receive the marble closet-pan, and a door, shutting up close to the seat, hid the whole arrangement from sight. A lead soil-pipe was connected with the outlet plug-waste of the pan, and continued from it to the drain, which was brought into the house to receive it. The soil-pipes had no ventilation.
1 " The London Art of Building " (1734). 2 Ibid.
"Patents of privilege, or monopoly, have been granted for several hundred years. The annals of some in very many instances have gone into oblivion. No. 1, standing first in supplementary numerical order, was a patent of privilege, or monopoly for thirty-one years, granted to Simon Sturtevant, on the 29th of February, a.d. 1611, 'for "Metallica," a treatise to neale, melt, and work all kinds of metal ores, irons, and steeles, with sea coale, pit coale, earth coale, and brush fewell.'
"The first patent in this country under Laws of Patents for Inventions, as far as I can glean, was granted by James I. in 1617; but according to the Records of the Patent Office, not a single patent was taken out for a water-closet until the year 1775, or 158 years after special licenses were granted for protecting inventions. The presumption is, therefore, that no water-closet other than that of a simple nature (as fig. 120) had been in use up to this date, 1775. But the specification of the first patented water-closet clearly establishes the fact that water-closets were in use at that time, for the inventor calls his invention a ' Water-closet upon a New Construction'; and the drawing annexed to the specification clearly proves that soil-pipes at that time were well known, and that water-closets were fixed 'upstairs,' i.e., in various parts of the house.
"In the year 1775 Alexander Cumming, a watchmaker in Bond Street, took out the first patent for a water-closet - and many closets in use to-day are more unsanitary than this one. Fig. 121 is a faithful representation of the drawing annexed to the inventor's specification. The water is brought into the basin, very low down, at e, and is kept in the basin by what the patentee calls the ' slider,' e. The details are all carefully engraved, and explain themselves. I will give two or three extracts from Cnmming's specification, as it will show us that traps were used under closets at this period, and that they were offensive; also that soil-pipes were fixed without ventilation, and that such pipes emptied themselves into drains, and the drains into cesspools:-
Fig. 121. - Cumming's Closet.
" 'The advantages of the said water-closet depend upon the shape of the pan or bason, the manner of admitting water into it, and on having the stink-trap so constructed that its contents shall, or may, be totally emptied every time the closet is used.....'
"'The stink-trap hitherto used for water-closets is too well known to require a description here; and although it may serve effectually to cut off all communication of smell from the drains, pipe, and cesspool, it becomes in itself a magazine of foetid matter, which emits an offensive smell every time that it is disturbed by using the water-closet. In this water-closet, the pipe which carries off the soil and water is recurved about twelve or eighteen inches below the pan or bason, so as constantly to retain a quantity of water sufficient to cut off all communication of smell from below, and this stagnated water in the recurved part of the pipe is totally emptied, and succeeded by fresh every time the pan or bason is emptied.'
" As shown in the illustration, the trap under Cumming's closet is a round-pipe, or syphon-trap. And as he includes it in his patent I take it that this was the first time it was used in England (1775). [But it does not follow that syphon-traps had not been used before; for the ancients knew the working of syphons, and may have used syphon - traps. Syphons are shown in Egyptian tombs of the date of 1450 B.C. The syphon was a favourite contrivance with Hero of Alexandria (150 B.C.) in his various toys and automata, of which the Cup of Tantalus is a favourite instance.]
" About two years later (i.e., in 1777), Samuel Prosser, a plumber, living in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, took out a patent for what he describes in his specification as 'A Water-closet upon an entirely New Construction, which will always remain free from any Offensive Smell.' A very desirable closet for everybody to have to-day if such were the case. But I should say it was about as bad as the pan-closet, i.e., a water-closet which would never ' be free ' from an ' offensive smell.' Fig. 122 shows this closet as copied from the drawing annexed to the inventor's specification. Two pages suffice to include his specification, preamble, claims, and license. It will be seen by the woodcut that excremental matter has free access to places where it could never get properly cleansed.
Fig. 122. - Prosser's Water-Closet.
"In 1778, Joseph Bramah, of Cross Court, Carnaby Market, Middlesex, cabinet-maker, took out a patent for his invention of the now well-known valve-closet. I give an illustration of this water-closet in fig. 123, as taken from the drawing attached to the inventor's specification.
Fig. 123. - Bramah's Closet.
"As you will see, by looking at the woodcut, the shape of the basin is very similar to Alexander Cumming's closet, referred to just now. The great advantage of Bramah's closet over Cumming's is that the former is made with a valve which seats itself against the bottom of the basin by a cranking arrangement, whereas the latter slides under the bottom of the basin, as shown at e, fig. 121. In his specification, Bramah says, 'The valve is placed under the bottom of the basin, and when closed retains any water that may be therein, thus cutting off all smell.'
"The difficulty in getting the ' slider' (e, fig. 121) of Cumming's closet, and the cranked metal-valve of Bramah's, to always seat themselves, so as to keep the basin always charged with water, and to stand rough usage, led to the introduction of the pan-closet.
"William Law, a founder in Soho, made certain improvements in pan-closets in 1796. But the pan-closet was not much used, though other improvements were made in it before the early part of this century. In 1826 William Downe, sen., of Exeter, also a founder, made further improvements in the pan-closet, ' reducing the size of the container,' etc. You see they gave this excrement-holder the right name, for it is not simply a receiver, it is a ' container ' too.